Sunday, April 30, 2006

Driving around the Lakes District

After my full English breakfast at my B&B yesterday morning, I hit the road. Heading west, I drove through the valleys and around the lakes surrounded by mountains on either side. Driving through Honister Pass without another soul around was awesome! Sheep crossing the road in the tiny villages, the colours and expanse of the area were amazing.

Through towns like Siddick and Cockermonth (seriously! Where do they get these names from!!), I headed towards the sea. Coming out of the mountain surrounds, I drove through to Workington and Maryport to see the sea. Usual disappointing British beach - or lack there of. Oh, and a dirty big pipe dumping who knows what into the ocean...nice one.

I then drove on to Carlisle, and had a look at the outside of Carlisle Castle. Lunch and coffee and cake in the little streets of Carlisle before heading off again in the Fiat.

On the way back to Keswick, I managed to find the Castlerigg Circle of Stones, and stopped to have a look. A ring of rocks in the middle of a paddock, thought to be a meeting place in medieval times, surrounded by the 360 degree view of the mountains.

This morning I have set the alarm to listen to the Hawks beat Essenscum by one!! Happenchance wireless in my B&B room, the streaming was loud and proud!! Any post-September Europe planning must now go on hold!!! Hee hee. (I am not actually kidding on this one...)

Another full English breakfast just now, and now I am ready to hit the road again. I think I have finally managed to re-set my concentration levels for driving, which was actually really hard to get back. What's with watching the road when there is so much to look at....opps!! (More photos.)

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Land of green mountain sides

Hanging to spend some time out of the city, time on my own, and time behind the wheel, I have taken advantage of the need to do a work visit in Cumbria, and just happened to scheduled it for the Friday before the long weekend....nice!

Tuesday I was up in Manchester for the day, for a work assessment. Wednesday night I was out for Dim Sum (Yum Cha really. Same same...) in Chinatown to catch up with another friend who has quit our job. Issues!

But today, I boarded the train up to Cumbria, and completed my assessment with my client, before heading off to collect my hire car (I have never hired a car before!!), and driven around among lush green pastures and hillsides, dotted with sheep in lambing season and the daffs out at every turn, to find my Guest House in the little village town of Keswick (I was saying it like Creswick without the 'r', but was's a silent 'w'!!?? Go figure!!).

I haven't driven for so long!! It was so nice just reaquainting myself with driving. And probably a good thing too, given all the accident stories I hear on a weekly basis for work! Getting used to it again, in my little Gold Fiat for the weekend, and the tiny English roads. The mad English drivers, and the unposted speed limits....

Wandering into the little town centre, surrounded by stone cottages and cobbled little streets, I walked down to see Lake Derwentwater, and the sunset behind the Cumbria Mountains, before dinner. (More photos.)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hawks are hot, farewell to Kimberley and The Proposition

Friday morning at work, I got to listen to the footy!! Hee hee!! Whilst continuing to bill, bill, bill (of course!! I am a working machine! Everyone knows that!!) I listened to the game beamed out of the Telstra Dome in Melbourne, into my laptop at work!!! Awesome!! Thanks to the AFL website, I could listen to the commentary, and follow the whole match. And the time different is working nicely for a Friday night game!!

And the Hawks come in with a win, Melissa calls me from the Dome so I can hear the victory song - all good. How much is everyone loving the Hawks right now!!

Friday night I headed off to Clapham area, and met Kimberley for her last get together, before she heads home to Canadia! Hee hee. Meeting Nat, Cam, Caitlin, Jack, Craig and John for drinks at Kimberley's first, we then headed off to the dodgey Swan for more see Kimberley off in proper London style.

Saturday I soaked up the unusual London sunshine on our rooftop terrace, with a book. The first of many of those afternoons, me thinks!! Very lovely!

Sunday, after watching the London Marathon on TV, I headed out to the Everyman to meet Caitlin, to see The Proposition. Highly recommended by my Jessie, I found watching Guy Pearce on the top of a rock formation in central Australia without a dress on all wrong!! But seriously, this movie was not for the faint hearted, with some savage violence that shocks, the compelling unraveling of the story, of the tale of three brothers in early Australia, was very, very good. Will be one for Year 12 classes to analyse in years to come, I reckon!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Roman Holiday

After a bit of a flight delay at Gatwick on Thursday night, I touched down in Rome, Italy for the Easter weekend. Getting in quite late in the end, I taxied from the main station to our hotel, Colors, to meet Nata and Laura, to prepare for our long, long weekend of exploring the Eternal City. Technically two countries in one, there was much to see and do!!

Good Friday we visited the Vatican. Wowed by the site of San Piedro's Basillica from the Tiber River, we walked up the main street up into the Square, and joined the queue to go in. Accosted by someone offering a free tour in English, we tagged along and listened to an American lad with too much time on his hands tell us all the history and the special sites of the Bascillica itself.

After a tour inside, and a walk through the Grotto below the Basillica where popes including John Paul II are laid to rest, we had lunch (pizza!) in one of the cobbled side streets near the Square, before heading up the hill behind San Peidro to the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. Loads of rooms full of amazing paintings before the final, gob-smacking roof of the Sistine. Full neck crick material, we each walked through with our faces glued to the roof, trying to take every intricate bit in.

The next day, we walked Roma! Walking across the Tiber and finding our way to Piazza Navona. Taking in the square and the amazing sunshine, we then set out through the cobbled streets preparing for the next sight....the Pantheon. Taking the piss about setting our face to stunned (The Simpsons style), I was soon silenced by the massive pillars and structure that is the Pantheon. Wow! Hee hee. A little disgusted that the piazza had a Golden Arches in the coloured shuttered buildings surrounding the obelisk and fountain.

Every couple of turns in the street and we were confronted with another towering, amazing old old building....

Walking then further, we located the Trevi Fountain, and threw the necessry three coins with our right hands over our left shoulders. Depending on which guide book you read, this ritual means that you will return to the Eternal City I can certainly live with that!! - or you will get married - hopefully that can wait!!

Walking a little way more, we then found the beautiful Spanish Steps. Covered with people, basking in sunshine, with a fountain at the foot and an obelisk at that top. Resting at the top to people watch and gaze on the sight below us, we sampled some gelati.

Still more city to explore we set off south, and once we knew we were in the vacinity of our intended destination, we stopped for lunch. Pasta was the call this time, and some much deserved Italian beer.

On the day my girls were watching our team deliver the biggest upset in the AFL season so far, in the shittest stadium in the world, I visited the greatest stadium in the world, the Colloseum. (Although perhaps the two stadiums are in the same state of disrepair - hee hee, Laura made a funny!!) Wow! The Colloseum is amazing! Awesome!

After lining up, and then walking through the giant ruin, we then wandered across to CIRCUS MAXIMUS. Just a green paddock now, was once the site of chariot races, and a huge crowd. Ahhh, I had built that place up all day!! Hee hee.

Veiwing the Roman Forum ruins in the setting light of the sun from up higher, we then had espresso and chocolate taking in the wedding cake building, the Vittorio Emanuele Monument towering over the Piazza Venezia.

Nata being sick all weekend, Laura and I headed off to see the Roman Forum ruins while Nata rested. Tasting some gelati to die for after walking through the huge, crumbling ruins of an anicent civilisation, we then walked over to Piazza Bocca della Verita, where the Mouth of Truth is located, and a rather nice lawn for a nap was found!

Walking along the river after this, we wondered over Isola, the island in the middle of the Tiber, before walking through the beautiful cobbled streets to find Piazza de Fiora. And a gnocchi and people watching stop here for lunch. And then some sun soaking and a beer in Piazza Navona.

The next morning I headed off to see Piazza della Repubblica, with it's grand pillared buildings and the Santa Maria degli Angeli, before having coffee along Via Vittoria Veneto, made famous by the 1950s La Dolce Vita fame. Tree lined, and now big multi-national hotel street, there was much people watching to be done here.

Laura and I then headed out to see one of the catacombs, St Sebastian. Site of Christian burials, our tour was unfortunately disappointing. Joining the English tour, this was lead by an Italian man who seemed to speak rote learnt speech for the walk through, which seemed to make very little sense. I don't think we came away from there the wiser!!

As darkness gathered over the city, the three of us then set out for a food and beverage crawl through the city, getting in some views of the lit up sights along the way. (More photos.)

With Laura heading off in the morning on Tuesday, Nata and I took in some final wanderings through piazzas and cobbled streets. Some authentic Italian cooking, more pasta and espresso....before having to head out to the airport for our respective flights back to London.

Roma! What an amazing city. Has easily become my favourite European city, just like that!! Five days in Rome. A city bustling with good food, amazing sights, cobbled streets, and vespas aplenty!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Silly Saturday Session, Nata's B'Day, and an Easter Egg Hunt

Arriving back in London, I popped home for a quick shower, to dump my bag, and do a load of washing before heading back out, across town to put in half a day at work. Can't be using up too much of my precious annual leave all in one go! Somehow managed to work, and work the next day too. Nothing like a decent dose of sunshine to cure all!!

Saturday afternoon I convened a Silly Saturday Session on the Queen Mary, to catch up with some of the gang from work, and all the gossip. Charlotte, Laura, Niny and Scott joined me in the sunshine on the boat on the Thames for drinks and goss. All very important, especially after three weeks away. And my chance to catch up with Charlotte before she headed home for two weeks holiday of her own.

Finally managed to meet my new housemate on the weekend too, now that Jenny has arrived back home in Melbourne. Nicole is all settled in now. The trick will be to try and get all four of us home at any one time now!!

Last night Nicole and I met Nata out at The Hit Bar in Hammersmith, with a host of her mates, to celebrate her birthday. A bar not so easy to find, but quite cute, it was good to see Nata in top form.

Today at work we all arrived this morning to find easter eggs hidden all over the office. The office Easter Egg Hunt was all very amusing, although I suspect the hiders had a little more fun than the finders!!

I am sitting in the shopping area of Gatwick airport now, after making record time getting from my desk, to the train, to the airport. Idle time. Better than stressing time!! Hee hee! Off for the long long weekend, can't wait. Yippee!!

Have a great Easter break!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Soweto and the Apartheid Museum

For my last day in South Africa, I joined a tour with some of the Waving the Flag bunch to see Soweto, and then also ventured across to see the Apartheid Museum too, before dashing out to the airport to get my flight back to London.

The minibus left the hostel reasonably early in the morning for the trek across town to the Soweto area. Soweto is the vast area which has developed into a black township said to house around 4 million people, and includes shantytown areas alongside the middle class areas, and also the larger houses of some of the rich black population. Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu's former residences are located in the same street in one area of Soweto - the only street in the world who can claim two Nobel Peace winners. Current homes of Winnie Mandela and Nelson were pointed out along the tour.

Driving across to Soweto, we got to see some of the city of Johannesburg, which is typically a no-go area, and thus not something we got a chance to explore. Due to the safety concerns in the city centre, tourists are advised not to even go in there. So we got to view some of the more interesting looking buildings, and the Nelson Mandela bridge from the motorway.

The highlight, and given the lite version of the tour we seemed to get this morning, was the Hector Pieterson Museum and Memorial. A memorial to the deaths incurred as the result of violence that broke out following a student protest in the peak of the apartheid battle, this museum has personal accounts and moving memorials. (More photos.)

After lunch, a small group of us headed over by taxi to visit the Apartheid Museum. This museum is huge, well spaced out, and very modern. And quite a different tone from the museum we visited in the morning. These displays and retellings of the history of apartheid and it's demise felt very offical and on the record. Having some time constraints due to the airport run, I managed to see about two thirds of all the exhibits, footage and photo history It's very intensive and comprehensive, and definately worth the visit.

Jo'burg has been a bit of an eye-opener as a finale to this trip. Had to get a full understanding of the culture, I think, but the mix of First World riches and Third World destitution is right here for all to see. Completing living side by side here, although not much assimilation or tolerance on display. The divide is so pronounced, so apparent. To me, there is little doubt where the fear, and the crime and violence steams from. I am quite shocked at the state of this city. Jo'burg has got to be the most unsettling, most unsafe feeling places I have visited.

My flight out of South Africa was an overnight one, and arrived back in London this morning. Having heard that it was 15C in London at least once while I was away, I was gutted to hear the captain state that the outside temperature when we would land was just a touch below 0C......Nooooooo!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Clean sweep

Aussie victory yesterday at The Wanderers, with a tense finish, and the first white wash home loss to South Africa since 1895....the same year Castle Lager was established...hee hee.

Day Three of the test was up and down...looking like we would lose, looking like we could wrap it up that day, then going off for bad light in the end, with 44 runs to win, and two batsman down for the count, and 5 wickets down...

A rather large night ensued, starting at The Wanderers Club across the road from the ground, with the ability to see the sun set behind the ground (Why did we go off for bad light when the sun was stil out, I hear you ask??!! Very good question!!).

Drinks back at the hostel got out of hand very quickly, and I blame Evil Johan behind the bar here for my unfit state the next morning, for all his spirit mixing!

Too hungover to fully appreciate and enjoy the last hour of the test match, I was there nonetheless. Massive hour of play, and the run down of the required 44 runs. Plenty of tension when wickets fell, and pressure mounted. But all good in the end, with some very Trent Bridge-like last stand batting from Bing and Kaspa.

Last night a group of us headed out for dinner at moyo, a restuarant highly recommended for it's game meat. I figured if I was not going to get around to seeing the big 5, I could at least eat them!! Hee hee!! Raw Springbok for starters, after going downstairs to sample our wine choices, and then Mozambique Fish Curry, dinner was gorgeous. The restaurant was so cute, with African theme, traditional face painting and music. (More photos)

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Wanderers

Settling into The Ritz (Backpackers), upon arrival, we then set off for the Flagger pre-test get together BBQ. On a AFD (Alcohol Free Day), was a quite one in preparation for the first day of the last test, being a dead rubber.

I have always wanted to go to The Wanderers, have watched quite a bit of cricket from here over the years on the TV, and it's one of those grounds that sounds awesome. And here we are.

After a decent breakfast, we headed down to the ground - a 25 minute walk, which we managed...despite the fact that it seems that no white South Africans walk or get taxis around here in Jo'burg. Talking to the locals, if they don't have a designated driver, it's a no go...interesting!

The Wanderers is a big ground, the bigger of the three on tour. We joined the Waving the Flag crew again, this time in the stands, for the last two days so far. Slow days, slow sessions, the Aussies have fought back today after looking in all sorts earlier on.

Texts from home with the various footy scores going around, the Sherrin still being passed around, and some Castle being drunk. All good.
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